Would You Like to Dance?

John fell asleep at the Halloween Ball. When he woke up he felt strange, and he decided to step outside the ballroom to get some fresh air. John had danced with many girls that night and had drunk quite a bit of wine, and to these things he attributed his strange feeling. As he stepped outside he thought about the girls he had danced with, and the one girl with whom he no longer could dance.

Sarah had died on this very night exactly one year before in a carriage accident on the way to the Halloween Ball. Sarah and John had been close, and had been looking forward to the Ball and their eventual marriage. The Ball that year would have been the first time they had ever danced, but it was not to be. John had waited all night for Sarah to arrive and finally received the terrible news of her untimely death.

John still thought about Sarah often, and his missing her had been the primary reason for his excessive drinking on one-year anniversary of her death. He was now feeling the effects of his carelessness, but the fresh night air had a calming influence on his mind. Still, there was no denying that he felt rather unwell. As he stepped outside a chill ran down his spine.

“I should not have drunk so much wine,” he said aloud.

John thought about Sarah as he wandered down the road to clear his head. He had every intention of returning to the party after he did so. A sense of unease gradually grew in his mind, causing him to stop abruptly at a cross roads. He realized with a jolt that it was the very crossroads where his beloved Sarah had passed away the year before.

He had made up his mind to turn around when he saw a dark figure standing on the side of the road. He squinted at it, wondering if he was seeing things. Then heard, as if carried on the wind, the soft word “John.”

“Yes?” He replied to the woman, for it was a woman’s voice that had spoken. It sounded familiar, though he could not quite place it. “What do you need, madam?”

The woman turned around. In a mix of elation and horror, John stared into the shadowed face of his beloved – and departed – fiance.

“Sarah?” he replied excitedly.

The figure stepped forward into the moonlight and looked at him with eyeless sockets staring out from a gaunt and sunken face.

“John,” she said. “Would you like to dance?”

John’s blood ran chill, and he stumbled backward. Fear overcame him completely as the corpse took another step and repeated the question with an emaciated and bony hand outstretched toward him. He heard bones creaking and creaking as the apparition moved, and the voice was horse and airy.

“John, would you like to dance?”

He turned and ran, his heart racing and his mind reeling. He shot a panicked look behind him and saw that he had not removed himself from the terrible creature’s presence, though she was not running to peruse him. She walked slowly and with difficulty but somehow was able to keep up with John’s frantic stumbling.

“John!” She said playfully, placing a flesh-less hand on her hip and tossing her head to the side with a crack from her neck. Her lips curled up in a hideous and skeletal smile. “Quit teasing me! Let’s dance!”

John neared the ballroom and began to cry for help. He burst in through the door of the building and saw a large crowd of people gathered in the middle of the room. He screamed and pushed his way through to the center of the crowd. He broke through the wall of people and stumbled over something.When he regained his balance, he stood and looked at what had tripped him and saw – to his inexpressible terror – his own body sprawled out on the floor, lifeless.

Perceiving that he was now a spirit, John turned and looked into the eyes of his fellow townsmen and women and pleaded for them to revive his body, but they neither saw not heard him. He realized all at once why he had felt so strange when he left the house, for in doing so he had also left his body!

In horror John saw Sarah appear and stand in the crowd smiling at him. He felt sick to his stomach, but as he stared into the rotting flesh of her face a change began to come over her. Her eyes materialized in their sockets and were filled with a shining light. Her flesh regained its color and shape and crept down the bones on her fingers. Her joints jerked into place, and her grin lost all semblance of malice. Sarah was once again the same lovely girl he had known in life, and there she was, smiling at him. John felt the uneasy feeling that had oppressed him fade completely and, with a mix of relief and trepidation, accepted without a doubt that he was dead.

He stepped toward his beloved Sarah, whole now that he had committed himself to the world of the dead and held out his hand to her. He smiled, and said:

“Would you like to dance?”

The House with the Orange Walls

In the fall of 1866 I moved to a small town to work as a school teacher. I had inquired at length regarding housing, but there was only one home available. It was much larger than my need required, but cheaper than anything I had expected to find.

I took a tour of the house before I purchased it. It was mostly built of solid stone and stood like a castle on the outskirts of town. The inside of the home was neatly furnished, though it had been vacant nearly a year, and I perceived that both the carpet and the paint were relatively new. The latter of these was most incredible. Every wall of the home had been painted a bright and sickly orange. I inquired about the singular color of walls and was told that the man who had lived there previously had survived a house fire in 1865 that all but ruined the interior of the home.

The man had repaired the home, but the loss of so much of his ancestral legacy was too much for him to bear, and the general consensus was that he had gone insane. Racked with the feelings of guilt, he had painted the walls with fire to remind him of his failure. His sickness had gradually spread throughout his body, and the man died a few months afterwards.

These circumstances may have been alarming to most, but I am not a superstitious person, and, being the daughter of a wealthy businessman, I know a good deal when I see one. I purchased the home and moved in immediately.

As I have said, this move took place in the fall of the year, but I remember my first year in that house as usually cold. Whether this is due to atmospheric or mental conditions I cannot say, but the first night I spent in the home was, without a doubt, unusually cold. I moved my things into the large bedroom on the second floor, stoked the fire in the parlor downstairs, made sure the windows and doors were securely latched, and went to bed.

I do not know what awoke me that night. At first I thought it was the heat. Somehow the house had become unbearably hot, and I thought I must have fed the fire too much – until I perceived the window. The window in my apartment had been flung wide open, and the shutters clattered softly in the chill breeze. I had no idea how it had gotten open, but I resolved to leave it so and check on the fire – when I distinctly heard the distressed cry of a baby.

As I have already said, I am not a superstitious person. I have never been afraid of whip ‘o wills or ghosts or anything of the kind, but I admit that on that night in that strange and isolated house the sound of a baby crying nearly turned my blood to ice. At first I tried to go back to sleep, to hide under my covers, to pretend that I was only dreaming, that I had heard nothing. But there it was again, unmistakable and shrill: the desperate wailing of a child!

My heart pounded against my ribs as if it had gone mad, and it nearly burst at the sound of pounding on the door of my house. Immediately I sprang out of bed and lit a candle with shaking, sweaty hands. I opened the door of my room and peered tentatively down the orange hallway. The house was silent for a moment, and then the wailing commenced again, and the pounding on the door grew frantic.

I raced to the parlor leaving wet footprints on the stone floor, and as I moved the light of the candle danced on the orange walls of the house as if they were in flames. I stopped for a moment despite the crying of the child and the pounding on the door to assure myself that it was not. I smelled no smoke, but the hose was growing intensely hot. I knew not what to do, so I rushed to the parlor and threw open the door.

There, on the large rug before the blazing hearth, sat the ghostly form of an infant. I froze in terror, and the candle I was holding clattered to the ground and went out. The specter apparently heard the noise, for it turned and looked at me with tear-filled, vacant eyes. It ceased its crying – and then the banging on the door commenced again. The child started and leaned forward, placing its small hands on the floor and crying bitterly again as it began to crawl toward me. Having arrived at my feet, it reached up and pulled imploringly on my night gown.

By this time my initial alarm had somewhat lessened and was replaced almost entirely by those feelings of motherly compassion that had first induced my to become a teacher. With a lump in my throat I bent toward the poor creature and lifted it from the ground. Its crying lessened considerably, and the relative silence granted me clarity of mind. The infant, who could not have been more than ten months old, was shaking and rubbing its eyes. I held it close to my breast and tried to sooth it, but the banging at the door redoubled its cries. The flames seemed to shoot out of the hearth and dance upon the bright walls of the parlor as the banging continued.

It may seem odd that I had not as yet opened the door, but the whole of this experience had taken place within a matter of merely one or two minutes, and, not being familiar with the lore of supernatural phenomena, I had no idea how to proceed. I began rocking the child gently in my arms. I wiped my perspiring forehead and reached out with trembling fingers to wipe the tears from the small, round cheeks of the baby. I would have covered the apparition in a blanket, but the room was so warm now that I could barely stand it. The heat and the light of the fire on the walls was very unsettling, and I had to continually remind myself that the house was not burning.

I looked down at the child began to panic: I was alone in a fiery haunted house holding a ghost in my arms. I began to sing a lullaby, as much to calm the baby as myself. The silence of the house enshrouded the two of us as I sang, and the effect gave me goosebumps despite the uncomfortable heat.

Lullaby, lullaby my little one,
Lullaby my child so –

The banging at the door began again suddenly in a crazed and deafening roar that seemed to shake the very foundations of the house. The child burst into piteous screaming, and I shook with fear. It seemed that whatever was knocking the door would not be appeased until I opened it, so I stepped hesitantly toward the door and flung it open. I fully intended to tell whatever demon entreated entrance that he could not take the child – but I found there no demon. On the step of the doorway stood the specter of a deranged woman. The sight of her grizzled hair and tear-streaked face was nearly too much for me, and I almost fainted on the spot, but the child in my arms recalled me from the brink of unconsciousness.

The child stirred and reached toward the woman with small, grasping hands.

“Ma-ma, ma-ma” the infant said as it sobbed.

Beginning to understand, I slowly lifted the baby to her with my heart pounding in my ears. Her hands took the infant gently and with all the purpose of a ritual. She gazed into its eyes through tears.

“James…” she said in a voice that sounded far away.

Then mother and child disappeared slowly into the night like a wisp of smoke. Inside, the fire had gone out, and the house was as cold as death. I re-stoked the fire and sat before it all night, reliving the incredible again and again. I have had many years of good sleep in the house since then, but that night I did not sleep at all.

The next day I spoke to the man I had purchased the house from and told him in confidence of the incident. His face was pale and his hands shook by the end of my tale, and he immediately vowed to give me a full refund should I ask it of him. I asked him what was the matter and then learned the tale of the house in its entirety.

A man had lived there with his wife and child and had enlisted to fight for the Republic in 1864. He had been on his way home from the war early in the Spring of 1865 when the first floor of the house caught fire. The mother could not get to her child, who stayed in a crib in the warmest room of the house: the parlor. She opened the window of her room and leaped to the ground. She ran to the front door of the burning house, but she could not get it open. She wildly pounded and threw herself against it – but the door would not budge. The child perished in the fire, and townsfolk said the mother had died of grief on the doorstep.

When the man arrived home he found that everything he loved in life had been taken away from him. He went mad and rebuilt the home, but he muttered always of the intense heat and of the wailing of a child in the night that would not let him sleep. In his madness he had the walls of the home painted orange to remind him of what had happened to his family. His insanity consumed him, and he died that same year.

I am not a superstitious person, and I have never been one to believe in ghost stories. It may sound strange when I confess that I was skeptical of this account despite its coinciding so well with my own experience. It would take something else to convince me that what I had seen was not the merely a dream.

“What was the child’s name?” I asked him. “The one that died in the fire.”

“James,” he replied.

I’ve tried many times to paint the walls of that house, but every time I do the color inexplicably fades to the color of flames overnight; and I will swear to my dying day that on still, quiet nights I can hear through the walls orange walls of the home the faint and joyous laughter of a disembodied mother and her infant child.

Revelations

The tattered man fidgeted, uncomfortable,
with the noose around his neck and his hands roughly tied.
His gaze moved nervously around the square,
searching for eyes he could look into
to plead for mercy, or at least compassion.
He found there neither.

A pale preacher stood and read aloud the sentence
in a flawless, practiced, scriptural voice:
“You are hereby charged with heresy
for claiming that God does not exist.
For this crime you are to be hanged to death.
Do you have any final words?”

He nodded eagerly.
“Very well, but choose them wisely,” the priest replied.
“For they will be your last.”

He looked out hopelessly into the silent crowd,
and said in a croaking, timid voice,
“I didn’t say that God does not exist;
I know as well as you do that he does!
The question is:
Did God make us, or did we make hi-”

Either way, the man was the first to know.